EEC Council of Ministers (Meeting)

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th December 1973.

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Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury 12:00 am, 19th December 1973

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Common Market

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Walthamstow West

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will seek a special meeting of the EEC Council before 31st December 1973.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be making a statement tomorrow on recent meetings of the Council of Ministers.

At the Council meeting on 17th and 18th December it was not possible to reach agreement on the amount to be allocated to the Regional Development Fund or on proposals relating to energy or on the next stage of economic and monetary union. It was agreed that the Council would have a further meeting to discuss these matters not later than 7th January next.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

Does my right hon. Friend agree that these meetings in Europe in the last few days have really been a squalid and childish example of so-called European unity by our so-called European partners? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will separate the energy problem, which is extremely serious, from the other problem of begging a few more crumbs of regional aid from the European Community, and that if we cannot make progress on energy in the European Community he will then accept Dr. Kissinger's offer in his speech to the Pilgrims that we, as an independent country, should join his European energy action group? Finally, may I take this opportunity to commend the honesty of the senior British official who referred to the meetings as "Eurocrap"?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

It is clear that my hon. Friend has read a particular headline in The Guardian. However, it must be for Ministers to use this kind of language if it is used at all.

I want to comment on one or two of the points which my hon. Friend raised. Dr. Kissinger's initiative is something on its own, and the energy question ought to be discussed in the OECD for the reason that it brings in Canada and Japan. It is incapable of solution without that.

On my hon. Friend's point about the meetings with the European Community, I do not recognise them as squalid- They are a process in which nine different countries try to harmonise their policies. They are not always successful. I have known other organisations in which they are not exactly harmonised, but nevertheless they make progress.

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Walthamstow West

Since the first year of British membership of the EEC has been an unmitigated economic disaster, will the Foreign Secretary now take action, under Articles 108 and 109 of the Treaty of Rome and Article 135 of the Treaty of Accession, to seek an urgent meeting with his colleagues to avoid the imposition of any further Common Market burdens on the British people?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's definition of our membership as an "unmitigated economic disaster". We all recognised that we had to pay a lot in the early years, but we also calculated the great industrial advantages which there would be in later years.

Photo of Mr Hugh Fraser Mr Hugh Fraser , Stafford and Stone

Will my right hon. Friend press even more forcefully to ensure that the oil question is taken out of the hands of the Common Market Ministers, who seem to be incapable of dealing with it—except to humiliate themselves in public in front of some Arab sheikhs in Copenhagen? Could not this matter be taken out of Ministers' hands to prevent the sort of event that occurred yesterday—namely, this question being used as a bargaining counter to veto action on regional aid? Surely the quicker this question can be taken away from the Ministers and put to the OECD the better we all shall be.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

Yes, there could be great advantage to the European Community in its relations with the Arab producers. Europe has a lot to supply, and in matters of technology and investment we should investigate the situation with the Arab producers. The meeting between the Community and the Arabs in Copenhagen was a quite productive one. This matter must be taken further and, for the reasons I have given earlier, I believe that we must include Japan and the United States if we are to reach a sensible solution to the long-term world problem. But do not let us discount Europe's influence in these matters.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Treasurer, Labour Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

Since the Foreign Secretary is now sharing a glimmer of realism about the relative importance of Europe in this connection, will he comment on the failure of the regional fund yesterday? Was it not the Government's hope and expectation that our payments to the CAP would be offset by a large receipt from the regional fund? If he has not achieved that, will he consider suspending our payments under the CAP and—even more widely, in view of the continual process of unrelieved failure—will he embark on an entirely new course for co-operation within Europe through an industrial free trade area?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I hope that we can work towards a situation—and this is the plan—under which, after the transitional period, Europe will be a free trade area.

So far as the regional fund is concerned, I can be positive: if the Community is to be a reality, it must have not only a common agricultural policy but a common regional policy. We are working towards this end, and hope to achieve it by 7th January.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Longden Mr Gilbert Longden , South West Hertfordshire

Will my right hon. Friend be not deterred by this short-sighted ribaldry from pursuing with determination his objective of achieving ultimate European unity, which can only be for the benefit of all our people?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said. The House must face some facts. Europe is immensely powerful—we conduct 41 per cent. of world trade, and that is not a negligible amount. We also have a powerful political influence, so long as we act together. This is immensely important. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a balance sheet to be struck, but on the political side we have been very successful up to the present. Things are more difficult on the economic side, but we must not give up hope and must work towards a common aim.

Photo of Mr Raphael Tuck Mr Raphael Tuck , Watford

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the nations have got completely bogged down right at the start and that any question of ultimate European unity is complete nonsense? Would it not be best if we renegotiated immediately, or pulled out?

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Does my right hon. Friend regard as ribaldry the reported remarks of the Irish Foreign Secretary to the effect that if there were no regional fund the continued British membership of the EEC would be called into question? Will he also say whether Britain formally used the veto yesterday at the Foreign Ministers' meeting.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

No, Sir. There is no need to use a veto when a discussion is continuing and when, as I hope, every member of the Community desires to reach a conclusion on 7th January which will produce a regional fund. The Irish Foreign Minister did not make that re mark in my hearing; I have read it only in a newspaper report.

Photo of Mr George Lawson Mr George Lawson , Motherwell

Will the Foreign Secretary treat the advice given by little Scotlanders and little Englanders with the contempt it deserves? Will he bear in mind that the long-term interest of Britain—Scotland included—ties up intimately with the rest of Western Europe? Will he say that he and his Ministers will take no part in this attitude when discussing questions that affect us all so intimately?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I find myself in close sympathy with the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson). I have always argued very strongly against Scotland being a separate unit, because our strength lies in the United Kingdom. In these modern days the strength of the United Kingdom lies in a united Europe which can exercise equal influence on the United States, the Soviet Union, China and, indeed, the world.